I've been covering the evolution of food plant automation at Food Engineering from the first PLCs and total proprietary systems through gateways through open architecture to the present day when vendors claim their software systems all integrate with each other. I've also been writing about consolidation of the food manufacturing industries through acquisitions, mergers and restructuring since the "mergermania" of the late '80s.

Since the merger of Chilton and Cahners, I can better identify with readers who have survived consolidation and must integrate your process control software with new ERP and financial systems.

Just this morning, I learned that my operating system is going to be changed for the fourth time in the past two years. During that time I went from MS.DOS to Windows 3.0 to Windows NT, and now I have to shift to Windows 95. (Ironically, the company will be shifting to NT later this year, so I'll have to change again.)

I've never been formally trained in any operating system or software program -- it's all been OJT. Formal classroom training is available, but the courses I need always seem to be scheduled when I'm traveling or fighting deadlines. Fortunately, my Food Engineering colleague Steve Berne is expert in these systems, and he's a great help to me.

But I do consider myself a pioneer. I was the first editor to equip myself with a laptop. Back in 1985, I purchased the Radio Shack Mod 100. I was able to integrate with headquarters in Radnor, PA, and fight deadlines from hotel rooms when traveling. But shortly thereafter, headquarters shifted to Macintosh and I could no longer integrate. Now I have access to new laptops and hope to try again.

My New Year's Resolution on the eve of the Millennium: Learn Windows 95, Windows NT, Word 97, Excel and PowerPoint. Especially PowerPoint. Then I won't be the only guy using a slide projector at industry conferences.